When I was younger, I hated running—like, with a burning passion. I always thought of running as a punishment, not as something I genuinely enjoyed doing. However, I did love soccer. I played soccer for six years and my least favorite part of soccer was the running. I hated racing against others to chase down the ball, and I was not very aggressive on offense. So naturally, I became a goalie.
After a while, my fascination with soccer faded; as I became more familiar with the sport, it became less exciting to me. Combining this with a move to a new school, I was ready for a change. When I was 12 years old, I remember talking to my mom about what sport I wanted to sign up for in the fall. The options at my school were either soccer or cross country. I wasn’t passionate about soccer anymore, so I considered my options. However, I didn’t think cross country would be a good fit for me. As I’ve mentioned, I hated running and, of course, the entire sport was just running. My mother, however, convinced me that this was the fresh start I needed, so I signed up anyway.
Needless to say, I hated it. My first practice went terribly. I wanted to throw up the entire time. It was physically demanding and overall not an enjoyable experience. I desperately wanted to quit. My mother wouldn’t let me, however, and said I needed give it a chance. My coach that year saw potential in me when no one else really did. I remember her telling me one day, “You need to toughen up.” I had never been talked to so bluntly in my life, but it’s the advice I needed to hear. That’s when it started to click for me: This sport was all about mentality. It’s so much more than just a finishing time, it’s the journey you take to get there.
Racing started to become exciting for me. I got a rush of adrenaline every time I competed and had an inert desire to prove myself toothers. That’s not to say that I loved every aspect of running. I developed a love-hate relationship with it, for sure. I hated being on a team that was comprised of me and literally one other kid (especially when all of the self-proclaimed cool kids were on the soccer team), and I really hated spending all my time in practice. But the harder I worked, the better my results were. Seeing that improvement was the catalyst that made me want to be the best version of myself.
That spring, I signed up for and fell in love with track. I tried out a bunch of events: hurdles, relays, the mile and sprints. The diversity of events allured me. Cross country was very mundane in that each course was the same distance, but track excited me because I got to choose my own adventure. I started to put in the requisite time and energy. Over the next several years my body slimmed down, my times really improved and I was well-known at my high school for my achievements. At the end of my high school career I was a four-year double varsity athlete in both cross country and track.
That was something I was really proud of. Near the end of my first semester of senior year, I was in a really weird place in terms of my relationship with running. I wanted to go to an Ivy League school, and I had given up on the possibility of running in college, knowing that I was not fast enough to be a DI athlete. I sent in my application early decision and got deferred to regular admissions, which at the time was really upsetting. In November, once I was out of cross country season, I started thinking harder about college and where I saw myself in that environment. I missed running. I missed my teammates and being in season. That was the moment I knew—I wanted to be a collegiate athlete. I was good enough to be a collegiate athlete. And being deferred gave me the time and headspace to realize this was actually what I wanted.
I had been in talks with coaches at several different colleges—Kenyon, Amherst and Vassar—and was testing out the waters for what life in college would look like as a student-athlete. After visiting for Admitted Students Day, I had a gut feeling that Vassar was where I belonged. I saw myself happy there, and that was the most important factor. Looking back now as a sophomore, I never once regretted that decision. Vassar is my home. Being a sprinter on the track team has been such a positive experience in my life. I have really great friends who support me on and off the track. My coach is flexible, pushes me and makes me feel comfortable enough to open up to him about my personal life. I have faced my share of struggles though, and in these moments I often do find myself asking the question: Why do I run?
Why do I spend around 20 hours a week doing this activity? Track is physically exhausting, and in all honesty, it gives me a lot of anxiety. Social anxiety about team dynamics, personal anxiety about performing well and general anxiety about not meeting others’ expectations. Why have I been competitively running for almost eight years now? For a long time, it’s just what I did. I wasn’t a quitter, and I wanted to see myself improve. Now that I’m in college, away from my parents, old enough to make my own decisions, I theoretically could stop whenever I wanted.
What keeps me going is that track has shaped me to adopt a mentality where I work hard at the things I do and strive to be the best version of myself. It gives me an outlet to destress about my life. It gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing I was able to complete a really tough workout. I run because, for a brief moment, nothing else matters. I can escape reality and just focus on the task at hand. And for me, that’s beautiful.
I will always have a love-hate relationship with running. Any runner will tell you they experience really high highs, and really low lows. I’ve faced plenty of setbacks in my athletic career. But I’ve learned that it’s not just about getting back up after you fall, but also about how fast you rebound after a setback. Track has taught me to work hard for my accomplishments and to always hold myself accountable.
I am proud to be a track athlete, and I am so proud of the accomplishments of anyone I’ve ever had the honor of running next to in a school uniform. I might not always be on the Vassar track and field team, but I will always be a runner. Being a runner isn’t just a position on a team, it’s a state of mind. I’ll carry the lessons I’ve learned and the ways I’ve grown from competing in track with me for the rest of my life.